We inhabit an age in which empowering technology is readily available first to individuals, not institutions. Consumers and employees will always get the new good stuff first. And it will always be so. The economics of technology investment seal that deal. The consumer market is bigger and easier to get started in.

In this empowered era, smart mobile devices, social technology, pervasive video, and cloud computing are the anchor tenants of the new technology platform. These technologies are available to every consumer and employee, even yours. The question is what to do about it? Two things:

  1. Because customers can hijack your brand (consumers in the US make 500 billion impressions on each other online every year), you have to use empower your customers with better information than they can get from their networks. You have to honor your customers as a marketing channel.
  2. Because employees have ready access to technology to improve their working lives, you have to give employees permission — and protection — to adopt these technologies. You have to honor employees' use of consumer technology as a source of incremental and sometimes breakthrough innovation.

It’s Time For A Whole-Company Response

So far, companies have been mostly been reacting to the demands that new technology places on the firm when the pressure gets too high. Marketing builds a community site and Facebook page. IT considers a bring-your-own smartphone policy. Learning and development experiments with video training. Developers build apps using cloud technology.

These reactions are necessary, but not sufficient. Instead, we need to bring marketing, IT, and customer services together to plan and execute the new customer engagement model. We need to bring IT, HR, legal, and business together to turn consumerization from IT threat to business opportunity.

Fortunately, you’ve been through this before. Marketing owned the Web. It was pretty easy. But when you started selling online, IT and business managers had to get involved. Marketing could own the Web. But eCommerce required a whole-company response. You had to work differently together to tie the Web site to the order management and delivery systems. It was a lot harder.

Similarly, marketing has owned the customer social engagement. It’s been pretty easy so far. But now that social technology is affecting customer service, now that customers expect to be served on mobile phones, now that employees expect to be able to use the superior technologies they have at home to solve customer and business problems, IT has to get involved. It will be a lot harder.

In the figure below, we introduce an easy way to think about it: dig into the collective memory of your eCommerce response to find clues to how best to work together across organizational boundaries to succeed in the empowered era. Just as eCommerce required a whole-company responses, so does your social strategy, your smart mobile strategy, your video communications strategy, and your cloud computing strategy.